Pesachim 35- Rice and other kitniyos on Pesach

In loving memory of my dear father, Moreinu haRav Avraham Benzion ben Azriel Hertz Isaacson zt’l, whose love of Torah, passion for justice, and acts of kindness inspire everything I do.

There are many topics that I would have loved to address on this daf, including the issues of קטניות  on Pesach,  of מצה עשירה  (matza made with eggs or fruit-juice), and the general halachik principle of אין אסור חל על אסור (one prohibition does not fall on top of another.)

However, due to time constraints, I have settled on a preliminary analysis of the former, namely the basis for the Ashkenazi custom to avoid eating species that are similar to grains on Pesach, known as קטניות .

The Mishna lists different species that can be used for making matza, namely the 5 grains: wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt. (I have given the generally accepted translations though the Gemara and mefarshim of course do spend some time discussing their precise identity.)

The Gemara infers from this that אורז ודוחן   (according to many views, rice and millet), may not be used for matza, and explains that this is because the mitzva of eating matza is compared to the prohibition of eating chametz, and thus only species that can become chametz can be made into matza.

Seeing as אורז ודוחן  cannot become chametz, but rather rot when left to ferment, they may thus not be used for matza.

The Gemara notes that the Mishna’s view is clearly against that of Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri who holds that אורז ודוחן  are considered a form of grain and one is liable to כרת  for eating them in their chametz form.

The Gemara’s source for this view of Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri is a Beraisa that reports forbidding these two species because they are קרוב להחמיץ   (close to becoming chametz.)

The Gemara was unsure whether he means that they become real chametz very quickly, or that they become close to chametz but not real chametz, in other words, become chametz on a rabbinical level.

It clarifies that he meant that it becomes real chametz on a biblical level, quickly, based on another Beraisa where he is quoted as saying that one who eats it in its chametz state is liable to כרת  – obviously, one would not be liable to כרת  for a rabbinical prohibition.

We are left with a clear debate between the chachamim and Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri regarding whether אורז ודוחן  can become chametz on a biblical level or not and, based on that, whether they may be used for matza or not.

As it is somewhat improbable that they would be debating the existence of a physical phenomena (מחלוקת מציאות ), something which is easily assessed by observation , it is more likely that they are debating what the very definition of chametz is, something which requires further analysis.

Given that there is a סתם משנה  (anonymous Mishna containing no debate) against Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri, it seems likely at this point that the halacha will rule against him in any case, and that אורז ודוחן  neither become chametz (at least on a biblical level) nor may be used for matza.

Several observations and clarifications are required,   among them:

  1. From the fact that the Gemara even entertained the possibility that these two species would be suitable for matza, if not for the comparison in the passuk, there must some significant property that they share with the 5 grains which would make them suitable in theory for matza. After all, there is no need to prove that matza may not be made from carrots or cucumbers. The existence of such a property is even more evident from the fact that Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri considers them to be fully fledged grains.
  2. Though I have intentionally avoided doing so till now, we need to identify precisely which species אורז ודוחן  refer to.
  3. We need to verify whether the two categories mentioned in the Mishna and Gemara, namely
  4. the 5 grains which may be used for matza and are subject to the prohibition of chametz
  5. אורז ודוחן  which may not be used for matza and are not subjection to the prohibition of chametz

are exhaustive, or whether there are other species that fit into them as well, due to their sharing common properties, after all, אין לומדין מן הכללות  (we do not rely entirely on rules of psak-see post on Eruvin 26.)

  1. We need to ascertain whether according to Chachamim, אורז ודוחן  are not subject to the prohibition of chametz at all, or whether they might still be subject to rabbinical prohibition, due to whatever common property we have identified that they share with the 5 grains.

IF

  1. the property that we are searching for serves as a common denominator between the 5 grains and kitniyos
  2. אורז ודוחן are indeed kitniyos
  3. The above species are only examples of kitniyos, but the same law applies to all members of this class.
  4. We can show that the Chachamim agree that this class are still subject to a rabbinical prohibition

THEN we will have discovered Talmudic grounds for the Ashkenazi custom to avoid kitniyos on Pesach, at least once there is reason to suspect they have become “chametz” on a rabbinical level (חמץ נוקשה).

In the absence of any of the above, it would appear that this custom has no Talmudic precedent from this sugya.

Furthermore, should we conclude

  1. that the Chachamim hold that  there is not even a rabbinical  prohibition

AND

  1.   point ii above  is correct, and אורז ודוחן  are indeed קטניות, it would actually run contrary to the explicit conclusion of the Talmud.

One who takes the time to investigate the various Rishonim on this sugya, as well as the parallel sugya and Rishonim on it (Brachos 37a), will see that there is much discussion and debate regarding all the above, and that this sugya plays more of a role than many would think not only in the lenient custom of the Sephardim, but also the stringent one of the Ashkenazim, though the trend in the classical sources certainly seems to provide more support for the permissive view.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

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